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Wilt Chamberlain

Dipper dominated game like no one before or since

Posted: Thursday March 31, 2005 1:33PM; Updated: Monday April 4, 2005 5:54PM
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By Pete McEntegart

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Sports Illustrated asked its writers to weigh in with their picks for the greatest college basketball player of all time. Read through their selections and then tell us yours.

Wilt Chamberlain certainly knew how to make an entrance. In his debut for the Kansas freshman team in 1955, the impossibly athletic 7-footer from Philadelphia scored 42 points as the frosh beat the KU varsity. When the Jayhawks were finally allowed to unleash their weapon on opponents a year later, Chamberlain scored 52 points (still Kansas's single-game record) and pulled down 31 rebounds against Northwestern in his very first game. Indeed, from the moment the massive yet graceful big man stepped foot on a college campus, Chamberlain was the most dominant force the sport had ever seen.

As word spread of Chamberlain's feats, Jayhawks opponents quickly made The Dipper their primary focus every time he took the floor. They would drape on him like the saffron curtains that hung from The Gates -- abetted by referees who subconsciously wanted David to have a chance against Goliath -- and slow the game to a crawl to limit his touches. Rival centers would try to lure him from the paint to chase after their long-range set shots so that other teammates might have a chance inside. Yet Chamberlain still averaged 29.9 points and 18.9 rebounds a game in his two college seasons, both easily the best marks in Kansas' rich history. In his spare time, he high-jumped 6-feet-6 3/4 to tie for first at the Big Eight track meet.

The only blemish on Wilt's college career is that he did not win a championship. But recall that North Carolina's 54-53 triple-overtime victory over the Jayhawks in the 1957 NCAA final is considered one of the sport's greatest upsets, even though the Tar Heels entered the game undefeated. Yes, a North Carolina team with a perfect record was considered a huge underdog, primarily because of Chamberlain's presence. Despite the Kansas defeat, Chamberlain himself was so dominant that he was still the clear choice for tournament MVP.

A year later, the Jayhawks were doomed to an 18-5 record when The Stilt missed several games with injury. Then Chamberlain, perhaps tiring of the endless string of collapse-on-the-big-guy defenses, helped blaze another trail that would become familiar for future college stars: He turned pro early. Chamberlain skipped his senior season to play for the Harlem Globetrotters. A year after that, he became the first player to be named both NBA Rookie of the Year and league MVP.

Over the years, Chamberlain's basketball identity became inextricably linked with his mostly fruitless battles against Bill Russell and the Boston Celtics. His very name, meanwhile, became synonymous with hedonism after his claim to have bedded 20,000 women. But neither fact should obscure the truth that for two seasons, Chamberlain dominated college basketball like no man before or since. It's time that this Goliath got his due.

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